Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Understanding Time: Part 4

The previous posts from the series are here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

By week 3 tracking became pretty second nature.  I was, however, wishing there was a way of putting in the "regulars," like the hours I teach each day.

One thing is sure about week 3, I did a larger variety of things.

I spent about 55 hours working again this week which seems to be an unfortunate trend, of late.  I'm hoping to consistently use my own foresight and lessons after spring break to cut down my time significantly.  This information provides a lot for me to think about and is going to drive my self-prescribed summer PD.

Daily/Weekly/Long Range Plan - 50 minutes
* When I wrote about this last week, I tweaked my time use in terms of daily agendas.  Unfortunately, that was NOT before I spent 26 minutes on it on Sunday and 12 minutes on Monday.  Then, Friday, I forgot to set it up ahead of time.  Friday was an unconventional fitness day - organized chaos, and I do not really produce well, nor think well amongst chaos.  So, I slipped with my new habit and had to set up Monday's agendas on Friday after school which took another 12 minutes.
WIN:  Despite those slip ups, I still saved an hour and ten minutes over the previous week in this category.

Planning - 9 hours 15 minutes
* At first glance, it looks like it's my history class that's killing me at over half of the overall planning.  It is, but this looks worse than it was.  We are currently immersed in Manifest Destiny, so I thought it would be fun to expose them to the magic of The Oregon Trail.  Even though the only free online version I could find was from 1992, they loved it.  So, it looks like the two hours I spent planning it were worth it in terms of engagement.  Again though, I had a simple goal in mind when I was creating a tracking sheet for them as they moved along the trail - keep track of the good luck and tragedies that strike on the trail and the results of each river depth and crossing result.  So, what did i do?  I played the game THREE times recording the various routes and then coming up with detailed questions for various stops.  I didn't NEED to do that.  I could have had a much simpler form they filled out.  Lesson learned from the video sheet, but again, I didn't reach that conclusion until reflecting...after I spent two hours playing Oregon Trail and creating a complicated worksheet.
WINS:  I spent less time planning than teaching in the other two classes.  Not only that, but some of that planning was forward planning into this week which should, hopefully, yield results in future weeks.

Grading - 4 hours
* WOOT!  I got a lot of grading squeezed in last week.  I still have plenty left - estimated 5 hours - to grade, but I made a huge dent.  It's important here for me to note that I grade the bare minimum.  I'll talk more about my grading philosophy at another time, but I am down to grading writing and assessments only in terms of full point values and feedback.
* WIN:  This whole thing is a win.  Often times it's tempting to procrastinate grading.  I scheduled it in and did it.  There were a few nights where it was tempting to leave before crossing it off my list, but I stuck to it.  My goal is always one week turn around on assignments, but often times it's closer to two or three weeks.  I think if I'm able to fine-tune the hours I'm planning, the one week goal will become more attainable.

Professional Reading and Research, PD/Meetings  - 3 hours
* This looks like more on my chart because we had an early release with afternoon PD.  I didn't really lose much "spare" time because I would have been teaching anyway; therefore, I'm not counting it here in my tally.  I think I sacrificed a half an hour.
* Two hours of this were self-imposed: an hour of the voluntary book study and an hour when our book group met.  I value the idea of a book-club, but it's really difficult for me to balance learning more techniques for teaching and saving time.  Learning new strategies is great, but unless they require minimum input for setup, it's not going to save me time right now.  It's the last book study for this year, but next year I will definitely need to weigh the benefits against the costs and save any PD books for summer reading.
* WIN:  Some of the ideas in the Making Thinking Visible book DO seem pretty low prep.  If I can incorporate some of those strategies into class, it may decrease some of my prep time.

All the rest - 3 hours 40 minutes
* The most disappointing thing in this category is that 44 minutes of "Time Wasting."  Like I said above, Friday was unconventional.  Teenage boys outside my room blasting music and lifting weights.  It was a great day overall, but a serious speed-bump in terms of productivity.  My prep was a total waste.  I tried to concentrate, but it just wasn't happening despite my list which only had focus-based tasks on it for the afternoon block.  The rest is pretty standard.
* No wins here.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Understanding Time: Part 3

If you are just joining me, this is part 3 of a series on time.  Part 1 introduced the problem I am researching.  Part 2 went into it further.  

No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking. - J. P. Morgan

Week 2 was mostly another week of just being mindful that I was using my time to be productive and tracking it every step of the way.  

 In many ways the week was worse, even though I only worked four hours instead of eight on Sunday.   I was AT work 55.5 hours. About four hours of that were "socializing" so those do not appear on the above chart  I worked almost 52 hours. Regardless, I spent a whopping 29 hours on work where no students were present, only four of those were on a Sunday this time.  I worked a few twelve hour days in there - 6:45am-7pm.  During this week, I learned that Eternity would allow me to tag my time as well which gives me a more full picture when reflecting back on the usage, like I am now.  

Planning This Week: Just shy of 16 hours

English 8 - almost 5 hours
* (1.5) An hour and a half of this was on a review scavenger hunt that I ended up abandoning.  This was a hard choice for me, but I was cutting my losses.  It was going to take me at least another hour and a half to finish.  I decided I just didn't have the time to see this through to completion.

* (1.5) Another hour and a half was spent revising a test.  Looking back that seems excessive for something that was mostly completed and was just revision but I know this includes copying, printing answer keys, and adding it to the student management system for students to take it online.  Because over half of it was accessible to students online and graded automatically, I saved myself probably double this time in grading that portion of the test since I have three sections of this class.  Remember to weigh the time you spend against the time that the front loading will save you later!  

* (2) The remaining time was a mishmash of classroom activities, creating a writing model for a paragraph, and writing a study guide for the test.

English 9 - 4 hours
* (2.5) Two and a half hours - Quiz creation.  Ugh.  We're in the midst of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I have them take quizzes almost 3-4 times a week to keep them accountable to the reading.  Good news!  They are reading it much better than my freshmen did last year.  Bad news - I'm spending a lot of time writing and tweaking quizzes.  Again though, most of these were multiple choice and computer graded.  

History 8 - almost 5 hours
* (1)  One hour was test creation.  That seems to be standard for me.  I don't know if that's too long or not.  Again, completely online so it at least graded itself.  Students wrote the essay ahead of time while I was out with my son the Friday before.  
* (.75) I spent 45 minutes creating a review on the Quizizz website.  I have an ultra-competitive group of boys.  Quizzes allows them to compete and practice test concepts in a "race" type situation.  
*(2.25) Two hours and fifteen minutes was creating a viewing guide for a video we were watching on The West.  The break of a video during class is nice, but I either need to simplify and have the students take notes surrounding an essential question, or cut video based assignments altogether.  Creating the viewing questions is really time consuming!  
* (1)  Creating an overview for the rest of the West unit, writing a few sheets to go with activities, and doing some research/flipping through my materials.

Daily/Weekly/Long Range - 2 hours
* ALL of this time was on daily agendas.  I truly had NO idea I was spending SO much time on these.  I thought it was taking me maybe 45 minutes per week.  

All the Rest
* (5) I spent a healthy amount of time grading this week.  An hour a day seems acceptable in allowing me to not get TOO far behind. 

* (1) A full hour was spent on listing and reflecting.  I think 12 minutes a day is completely acceptable for that.  It's how I end my day and set my priorities for the next day.  Having the pre-planning done lets me run on automatic mode.  When I have a free moment of time, I just look at my time block, choose a task and get to work.  

* (.75) Almost forty-five minutes of cleaning up and filing.  We're getting to the end of some units, so that tends to be the time I start getting stuff packed up. My desks are clear, so this is a happy sacrifice.  

* (.5) Totally wasting time.  This is like lost in thought, totally spaced out.  What can I say, I worked 55 hours, only a half an hour spaced out seems like a pretty small slice of all that time.  


* Tracking time can help you get a healthy perspective.  There might be something in your schedule that you had no idea was eating up so much time.  I could have saved nearly two hours here.  You cannot possibly remedy it unless you've identified it first.  If I'm spending two hours a week on an agenda, that's eight hours a month!  There are better ways for me to squeeze this in while I have students in my room.  What things are you doing every day that might be time leeches?  

* Decide if you value socializing with your colleagues.    The more hours I spend at school in a week, the more I seem to tack on in the socializing category.  I do count my lunches, so 2.5 hours would be completely normal in the realm of "off-task" socializing time for almost any teacher, but it's crazy how fast a few minutes here and there can add up.  I could cut this time, but it's not a priority to me.  I'm willing to just say, I spent 48 hours at school but only 42 working.  I work with really fun people!  

* Find no-prep assignments to serve the lesson objective you have in mind.  I spent over two hours writing a movie guide.  Why didn't I just tell my students to write down 5 interesting facts for every 30 minutes of the video?  My true purpose was in making them pay attention throughout the whole video.  That would have saved me 2 hours.

* Make sure you REALLY want to do an activity or lesson before committing time to it.  I thought I wanted the students to do a scavenger hunt review.  But the test was open note, we were running low on time, I had so much to plan and do this week, and I what THEY really needed was a day to work on projects not another activity to complete.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until an hour and a half into the project.  I wasted an hour and a half by not spending a bit more time thinking things through.

If I would have used my own time hacks above, I'd have saved myself nearly 5 hours last week.  I'm sure I'll continue to fail myself many more times in time efficiency before I get this all figured out.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. -Henry Ford

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Understanding Time: Part 2

In my first post on Understanding Time, I explained what prompted this experiment and the main tool I am using to conduct this experiment.  I also left off with a few key takeaways.

The path to success is to take massive, determined action.
– Tony Robbins

I continued my time tracking progress for an entire week.  At the end of 7 days, my time showed me this:

I want to know how I'm spending ALL my time, but I specifically want to know how I'm spending all the hours that I'm NOT teaching but still working on work related tasks.  Also, my middlest child was sick on Friday, and I didn't do anything work related, so this graph is slightly skewed there.  Luckily, or unluckily, I had already worked 7 hours on Sunday.

So am I spending most of my time planning like I thought?  Pretty much, yes.  

Of my 47 hours and 20 minutes at school, I taught 22 hours and 27 minutes.
I socialized 4 hours which included days I dragged myself away from my desk to eat lunch with colleagues.  The struggle is real.  
That left 20 hours and 53 minutes where I was working but not in front of students.  
I spent 15 hours and 33 minutes PLANNING!

Specific Lesson Planning and Preparations
History 8 - 5 hours 15 minutes
English 8 - 2 hours 50 minutes
English 9 - 3 hours 2 minutes

TOTAL = 11 hours 7 minutes

BUT then there's that pesky Daily, Weekly, Long Range Planning category where I spent - 4 hours 26 minutes!?!

What was I doing during "Other" Planning time?!? 

  • I create daily agendas for my students every day with the objectives, order of activities, and homework assignments listed.  Those take about 10-15 minutes per day.
  • I also had to go back to school for an hour on Thursday to create sub-plans
  • The rest was revising what I *thought* my lesson flow was going to be for the week and going forward. That ended up amounting to almost TWO AND A HALF HOURS!!!! Ugh.

What went well?

First, I did squeeze in *some* grading.  We shan't discuss how much was left to grade at the end of the week.  Since everything was turned in within the month of March, I feel pretty okay.   Also, my class is automated enough that I can squeeze some grading in while they are working.  I do not record any grading time that occurs while students are in my classroom.

Second, my administrator is awesome.  There is no "Death by Meeting" in our building.  The meeting and reading I *did* do this week was a voluntary book study.  And by voluntary, I mean actually voluntary.  No raised eyebrows or angry side glances as those not participating.  

Third, I put a few things away?  That's reaching, but my piles are under control.  

Fourth, I DID follow my cardinal rule of planning - "Don't spend more time planning and preparing a lesson than it will take to execute it" - in 2 out of my three preps.

Finally, I didn't waste much time getting lost in my thoughts, on the internet, or inside a colleague's room to rant.  

It WAS a productive week in those respects.


  • Don't try to plan too far in advance. Having a general roadmap or list of what you'll be doing in the next few months is good, but spending much time getting specific too far in advance might be a waste of time, especially if you are mercurial like me and do not have to keep in lock-step with another teacher.  That's what bit me in terms of longer range planning.

  • Figure out what you can and should do while students are working independently.  Sometimes I grade, but more often than not I don't because I do not like interruptions.  This would be an ideal time for me to work on those Daily Agendas and it would save me about an hour of time during another part of my day.  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Understanding Time: Part 1

Two weeks ago, I spent seven hours of my Sunday on school tasks.  Last weekend, I spent about four and a half.  This weekend?  I'm hoping for one hour, but I'm a dreamer that way.  Regardless of what tomorrow's tally shows, I know I spend more time on school than I should.  I'm also positive that I am not alone.  It's not all that unusual for teachers to spend most of their Sundays grading or planning.  I'm not sure when that became an acceptable norm or expectation, but I think it's time to take back Sundays and several weekday hours too.

Fact:  I spend between ten and twelve hours a day at school.  My typical hours are about 6:45 to 5, but occasionally that is more like 6:45 to 7:00.  But, I feel like ALL I am ever doing is PLANNING.  How in the world can that be?  Is it perception?  I can't really be spending 50-55 hours at school, teaching about 25 hours and then PLANNING 25 hours, can I?

That doesn't work, for an English teacher, I should add.  The papers, they multiply faster than bunnies - only they aren't usually as cute.

Being the logical analytic that I am, I decided to see if my perception was reality or if I was simply a head-case.  Foreshadowing alert, I'm sane.

Armed with a healthy dose of curiosity, nothing to lose, and my iPhone, I decided to track my time for an entire month to figure out how I was spending my time.

Utilizing Technology

I've had the Eternity app on my iPhone for a LONG time.  I do not remember where I encountered it, but I've been studying organizing, time management, list systems, and productivity for almost a decade and a half.  At some point someone very smart and together recommended it, and I downloaded it.  So, it finally time to really give that app a workout.

I started on that fateful Sunday when I had to work over 7 hours.  I wanted to get a feel for what was taking me so much time.  I tracked every moment.  Every time I switched tasks physically, I switched in the app.  (If you're thinking that sounds like a pain, it is, but I'm doing this in the name of science and sanity.)

I have have HOME and WORK and then lots of "tasks" beneath each.

The Work Categories (created by me in Eternity)

1.  Teaching
2. Time wasting: spacing off, looking at Amazon, whatever
3.  Daily/weekly/Long range planning
4.  History planning
5. History grading
6. English 8 planning
7. English 8 grading
8. English 9 planning
9. English 9 grading
10. Professional reading and research
11. Cleaning, Filing & Organizing
12. Listing and Reflecting
13.  Other
14. Socializing

Note:  You can add as many different work categories as you want in Eternity.  These are the ways in which I spend my work hours.

The Terrible, No-Good, Very Bad Sunday - 7 hours of Work

Created within Eternity App
After the day was over, this was my breakdown.

Daily/Weekly/Long Range Plans - 42 minutes
  • This was a mix of rough sketching the week ahead and then matching that against the rest of March, then tweaking since our spring break begins near the end of March.
History planning - 3 hours 49 minutes
  • This was a massive time suck and the return was not good.  My general rule is: Do not spend more time planning something - a lesson or activity, than it's going to take you to execute it.  So if it's an hour long lesson, it should take less than an hour to plan, create, and copy anything for it.  This was a FAIL.  I was teaching Jacksonian Democracy, and I don't really like lecturing.  Additionally, it's a prep that I've taught long ago and then regained last year, so the content is no longer fresh in my head.  So I found a PBS Documentary and previewed it:  1 hour and 40 minutes.  Then I had to re-watch to pare it down to an hour whilst creating a viewing guide with questions.  Chances are good that I'll be teaching this class again next year, so I guess there's that, but I broke my rule and wasted a lot of my Saturday on a topic I don't really like all that much.

Do not spend more time planning a lesson or activity than it's going to take you to execute it.

English 9 planning - 2 hours 15 minutes
  • This is only my second year with this prep, so I'm a slow planner.  We're reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I still do not know the deep thinking stuff as well as I need to. This time was spent rereading the chapters, writing a quiz, and going through my folders to decide what to use for the week.  

Listing and reflecting - 15 minutes
  • This was a weekly review of the week: checking out my calendar and obligations and putting it into my planner and scheduling my planning tasks into the week.  David Allen GTD Style.  

My Takeaways

When the papers had settled and I woke up the next day, I was able to really analyze this information and notice a few things.

Primarily - I should have just gotten in my car and driven the 10 pathetic minutes to work because...

1.    I would have been able to send copies as I finished typing them -  saving me about 20 minutes on Monday morning.
2.  I would have shaved a few HOURS off my time. Going through the Jackson binder this past week, I saw that the previous teacher showed the same documentary and already had a reading guide for it.  I reinvented the wheel, and it wasn't any rounder than the one made before me.
3.   I would have saved time from disruptions.  Family and technology.  Neither is much of a problem at work.

What should YOU Takeaway from my Sunday of Pain?

1.  Make sure you are not reinventing the wheel.  Take a thorough glance through your materials before researching and creating.  Call or text a teacher that teaches the same thing.  Does s/he have anything you can use?  Join a few Facebook groups and ask.  Last resorts - Google, Pinterest, or Teachers Pay Teachers.  These are last resorts because they also take time.

2.  Even though no one wants to spend a weekend in their classroom, it may create just the mental atmosphere needed.  You will work faster to get the heck out of there.

3.  Working at work allows you to take care of more tasks as they come up which will save you time in the short term AND the long term.

Coming up in Part 2 - I'll breakdown a WHOLE week of time spent and the takeaways from that, and in Part 3, I'll show a contrast of second week tracked and how I learned to tag my time for additional data.  Finally, in Part 4, I'll post my final week of tracking.  At the end of each, look forward to my lessons.  Week 4's post will include a handy printable.